Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bolivar Ferry

.Yesterday morning we took a friend from Mexico down to Galveston for the day. We began our day on the coast with a ride on the ferry from Galveston to Bolivar. We were surprised not to see any dolphins during the crossing but there were quite a few birds in the ports and around the ferry.

From the appearance of some of the Double-crested Cormorants it was clear that breeding season is drawing near.

As usual, there were Laughing Gulls perched everywhere.

They constantly circled the boat, too.

Mixed in with the gulls on the harbor buffers were some Ruddy Turnstones.

I don't usually take pictures of Rock Doves but this one looked pretty enough to warrant a photo.

The occasional Grackle joined us on the trip.

The breakwater at Bolivar had a handful of both White and Brown Pelicans. The Whites were resting but a couple of the Browns were flying around.

So our day on the coast was off to a good start. Next up was the shorebird sanctuary beach on Bolivar, always worth a visit at any time of the year.

Friday, February 24, 2012

CyFair Campus

This month I'm leading an intensive teacher-training course and so I'm not getting many opportunities to bird the campus. This is a pity because there seems to be a greater variety of bird species at the college than has usually been the case this winter.

The retention ponds continue to attact lots of Great and Snowy Egrets, as well as American Coots and Double-crested Cormorants. They still have scores of Ring-necked Ducks also.

Every visit I have made to the nature trail has turned up several Yellow-rumped Warblers and usually either an Orange-crowned Warbler or a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  A few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have also been making a appearance.

Although American Robins have been surprisingly absent - I've seen just one all week - we have finally had good numbers of Cedar Waxwings. One day I saw a flock of 300+ while yesterday there was a group of 60.

I sprinkled some seed near the parking at the entrance to the nature trail and it didn't take long before one of our flocks of Savannah Sparrows discovered it. I've been able to sit in my car and watch up to 30 Savannahs foraging within a few feet of me, which has made it easy to get close-up photos of them.

I've been hoping that the seed would attract other sparrows too, but the only sparrow that has turned up with the Savannahs has been a solitary Field Sparrow.

The southwestern corner of the campus has been busy with Red-winged Blackboards. Up to 40 at a time perch on the trees or the utility wires and the males fill the air with their trilling. Not to be outdone, a few Eastern Meadowlarks have been singing their beautiful songs nearby, their yellow breasts gleaming in the sunlight.

It isn't all sweetness and light with our campus birds, of course. A Northern Harrier frequently flies over looking for prey, and a Red-shouldered Hawk is normally lurking somewhere in one of the trees. Our resident Red-tailed Hawks are very active hunters.

Yesterday I saw the female Red-tailed carry a dead bird - perhaps a White-winged Dove - to the top of a utility pylon, where she proceeded to pluck and then eat it.

Also yesterday, I saw my first Purple Martin of the year. I imagine it won't be very long before a dozen or more pairs return to breed on the campus. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sheldon Lake Environmental Center

Sunday morning we headed over to Sheldon Lake, hoping to see the Great Kiskadee that has been hanging out there for months.

We were delighted to see that the recent rains have filled most of the ponds back up to their normal levels and that alligators have returned.

At the very start of the trail we bumped into fellow birders Mark and Sarah Kuzio. I mentioned to them that I was hoping for the Kiskadee. Two minutes later I was walking a few yards behind them when Mark beckoned me to move up to where they were. "Kiskadee," he said pointing to the bushes to one side of the trail. And there it was! Unfortunately, it was gone before I could even get my camera up to eye-level. Still, a great bird to see in our area.

A few minutes later we were all surprised to see a huge flock of White Ibis pass overhead. They went over too fast to count or to take photos but there must have been at least 100 of them.

The rest of the trail was largely empty of birds except for numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers and several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. The latter sometimes fussed around fairly high in the trees but often came down and foraged within a few feet of us.

The final sighting was of an Anhinga perched on a branch and drying its wings.

When it was dry, it started the curious head waving and croaking routine that perched Anhingas often indulge in.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rain, Rain, Rain

.It seems to have done nothing but rain for the past two weeks. Given that we're still in a drought, this is a good thing. However, it has made it difficult for me to get out to watch birds. Also, when there have been breaks in the rain, the skies have generally been so cloudy and dark that there hasn't been enough light for me to take photos.

At the college I haven't been along the nature trail lately because it has been cut off from the parking lots by a sea of mud. However, I have noticed that a flock of perhaps 20 Savannah Sparrows has been grazing near the entrance to the trail.

The stormy weather has meant that the campus parking lots have had several Ring-billed Gulls devery day.

Back at home a score or more Chipping Sparrows are rarely far away from our feeders. I never tire of watching them.

Unfortunately, the same is now also true of a group of 8-9 House Sparrows.

I haven't seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Yellow-rumped Warbler or an American Goldfinch for days but at least two Orange-crowned Warblers are still hanging out in our yards.

The Rufous Hummingbird that appeared some weeks ago is still visiting our feeders, too. Late yesterday afternoon she appeared for the first time at a feeder that I'd attached to our livingroom window. I grabbed my camera, switched on the flash and managed to get one shot before she vanished.

We've occasionally seen less common birds in or above our yards. Early in the week a group of five Sandhill Cranes flew over, while on Thursday 25 Cedar Waxwings spent a couple of minutes in the top of our oak tree. Dee has noticed a hawk flying through the backyard on several occasions. I suspect it is the Sharp-shinned Hawk that I've seen a few times lately in our neighborhood. From the little heap of Chipping Sparrow feathers that I found on our front lawn yesterday, I also suspect that the hawk has noticed the activity around our feeders.

Countless numbers of squirrels are constantly roaming around our yards, often digging up our lawn and flower beds to recover acorns they buried last year. They have learned that our seed feeders are squirrel-proof and so they leave them alone but at least one squirrel has realized that our suet feeders are accessible and contain tasty food.

I guess this means we'll now have to squirrel-proof these feeders too!

As today is supposed to be dry, we're going to get out to do some birding. We'll probably across to Baytown Nature Center and - mosquitoes permitting - spend a little time there. Then we may pop in at Sheldon Lake on our way home, where perhaps I'll finally get to see the Great Kiskadee that has been there for months.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Soggy at CyFair

We have had a lot of rain over the past weeks and non-paved areas of the CyFair campus are either waterlogged or covered in mud. While the rain is very welcome, it has produced less-than-ideal conditions for birding. Conditions have been even worse over the past couple of days because we have had thick fog each morning. So I'm afraid I haven't been able to take many photos.

The retention ponds continue to host a lot of birds every day - mainly Great and Snowy Egrets, American Coots, Double-crested Cormorants and Ring-necked Ducks. The Great-tailed Grackles which hang out in our parking lots have often been joined by Ring-billed Gulls, while small groups of Savannah Sparrows graze the surrounding lawn areas. Every so often a Northern Harrier flies across the ranks of parked cars, taking me by surprise every time it appears.

The nature trail has been quiet most days, perhaps because of the Red-shouldered Hawk that has taken to lurking there.

However, the hawk was absent yesterday morning and in its place there were maybe twenty Yellow-rumped Warblers, by far the most I have seen there this winter. I also spotted a group of Cedar Waxwings.

In previous winters we have had large numbers of Waxwings on the campus - sometimes flocks of 300-600 birds. This year the biggest flock I've seen has been only about a dozen strong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yard Watching

.It was another cold day on Sunday and so I decided to stay home and watch birds from the comfort of our central heating.

In February our yards are usually crowded with Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinch and White-wiunged Doves. Sunday was no exception and I often looked out to see 20-30 Chippings Sparrows, 6-8 Goldfinch and 10-20 White-winged Doves.

We are so used to seeing hordes of White-winged Doves in the front yard that I almost didn't notice that a solitary Mourning Dove had managed to in and take a drink from the birdbath.

Over the past weeks our suet feeders have been getting a lot of attention from two of our three winter Warblers - Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned (below).

On Sunday I was pleased to see that they were joined - but only for a minute - by a Pine Warbler.

The smallest of our visitors, a Rufous Hummingbird, continued to make use of our hummingbird feeders.

I keep expecting a Cooper's or Sharp-shinned Hawk to notice all the activity in our yards but the only hawks we saw on Sunday passed by high overhead. However, a couple of Turkey Vultures circled low over our front garden, their enormous wingspans dwarfing all of our yardbirds.

Unfortunately, our neighborhood House Sparrows have also noticed the action in our yards and 6-8 of them frequently fly in to eat at the seed or suet feeders. When not eating, they tend to hide out in our honeysuckle vine or to perch expectantly on our garage roof.

Remembering how aggressive House Sparrows can be in England, I worried that these ones would dominate our feeders. However, they seem to be fairly timid and they are often pushed aside by our House Finches and even by our (much smaller) Chipping Sparrows. As long as they continue to act this way, I guess I won't bother taking any steps to discourage them from visiting!